The relationship between nutrition and children's educational performance: a focus on the United Arab Emirates


Osman Galal, School of Public Health, University of California at Los Angeles, CA, USA. E-mail:


The purpose of this paper is to highlight the link between children's nutritional status and their educational achievement. It is argued that education policy makers must consider nutrition as a key factor in the design of educational interventions to improve the participation and academic performance of school-age children. Historically, analyses aimed at improving accessibility and quality of schooling in countries struggling with educational issues have focused on school-related factors such as location, the availability of teaching materials, teacher quality, and institutional management. Demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of households are also frequently cited as important determinants of school participation and school achievement. Surprisingly, except for age and gender, individual characteristics such as health and nutritional status are rarely considered as underlying factors. However, studies have shown that undernourished children have lower attendance, shorter attention span, lower performance scores, and more health-related problems than their well-nourished counterparts. Eight hundred million primary school-age children form a substantial fraction of the world's 2000 population; a number that is growing by about 10 million each year. The resulting pressure on schools implies the need for cost-effective approaches that support both education and health. The key is the nutrition/learning nexus. Current problems found in both the developing and developed world relevant to the role of nutrition for tangible educational impact, efficient use of resources, and development of health promoting policies, are illustrated using data from the United Arab Emirates as an example. The problems and possible solutions are applicable to many other regions in the world.